A benefit payment made to poorer families in Scotland will be doubled to £20 a week “sooner rather than later”, Nicola Sturgeon has pledged.
SNP ministers at Holyrood had already pledged to increase the Scottish Child Payment from its current rate of £10 a week.
But with the Scottish Government coming under persistent pressure from opposition leaders and campaigners to up the payments, the First Minister used her Programme for Government statement to make plain this would happen “as early within the life of the Parliament as possible”.
Anti-poverty campaigners said it was “deeply disappointing” that the First Minister had not acted more quickly on this.
But given the scale of the commitment, Ms Sturgeon said upping the payment would would have to be considered as part of the Scottish Budget process.
She told MSPs her government would “set out how and exactly when this commitment will be met when we publish the Budget Bill”.
And the First Minister stressed: “Our firm intention is to do so sooner rather than later.”
Her comments came as she insisted that improving support for children and young people, many of whom have been impacted by Covid, was “one of the key themes” in her Government’s plans.
With Scotland having already increased free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 1,140 hours a year, Ms Sturgeon said work would take place over this parliamentary term to extend that entitlement to all one and two-year-olds – with this starting first with youngsters from low income families.
To help those families whose children are at school, she said the Government would also “develop a system of wraparound childcare, offering care before and after school and during holidays”.
The First Minister pledged: “This will be free for families on the lowest incomes and available at an affordable cost to others. A delivery plan will be published over the coming year.”
There will also be £70 million invested this year in the Young Person’s Guarantee scheme – which aims to ensure everyone aged between 16 and 24 has the guarantee of either a job, a place in education or training, or a formal volunteering opportunity.
However, John Dickie, the director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said it was a “disappointment” that the First Minister had not promised an immediate increase to the Scottish Child Payment.
He stated: “Commitments on childcare and tackling the costs of the school day are vital to ending child poverty, but really must be accompanied by an increase in the direct cash support that families need to provide for their children.
“That’s why it is a disappointment that, whilst she restated her commitment, the First Minister missed the opportunity to announce an immediate doubling of the Scottish child payment today – an investment that has the backing of all the political parties and over 120 trade unions, children’ charities, women’s organisations and faith groups.
“All eyes are now on the Scottish budget as the key opportunity for the First Minister to do the right thing and ensure actual investment matches the ‘national mission’ to end child poverty.”
Similarly, Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government have ignored the consensus that has developed across political parties, communities, civil society and faith groups around the need to double the Scottish Child Payment now to stem the rising tide of hardship across the country.
“Promises of action tomorrow don’t put food on the table today. We agree with the First Minister that ending child poverty should be our national mission – but that requires action to be taken now to loosen the grip of poverty on children’s lives.”